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Hess back with competitive Tonawanda wrestling group

It’s the homecoming Jeff Hess has been hoping to have one day.

After a five-year stint coaching at Sweet Home and serving on the staff with Cheektowaga, the Tonawanda High School 1996 graduate is beyond thrilled to return to his alma mater as the Warriors new varsity wrestling coach.

“When I left Sweet Home and went to coach with coach (Matt) Haberl at Cheektowaga, that’s actually why I left Sweet Home, to go coach with my old coach,” Hess said. “When I went there I told Matt I’d never be leaving him unless Tonawanda had an opening, kind of as a joke, because we were still pretty good friends with (previous coach) Jim (Schraufstetter) and (junior varsity coach Dave) Nedell.”

Now, Hess is able to relate first hand to his team because he walked the same halls and worked his tail off in the same practice room day after day. So, it wasn’t a struggle to connect with his new team during that first meeting.

“I just kind of (talk to them) about how things were here when I was here and wrestled under coach Haberl and coach (Glen) Bateman,” Hess said of his introduction to his new team. “I told them kind of the way we were seen throughout the section as maybe not always being the best, but one of the most physical teams, one of the best conditioned teams around. And people just didn’t want to wrestle us, because of our energy and toughness.”

Hess is also excited about the level of talent he will be working with at Tonawanda. Leading the way for the Warriors will be captains Steven Warthling, Cody McGregor, Jacob Choate, and Tim Barnard.

“It’s unusual to come in with a team where you have five to six people who will be contending to place in sectionals,” Hess said. “I couldn’t imagine walking into a situation like that anywhere else.”

Warthling said Hess’ return is another sign of former THS student-athletes coming back to the school because they want to give back to and improve the athletics programs.

“He’s a good coach. I like him; I like the way he runs things,” Warthling said. “Even bigger is that he’s not just here to have a job coaching. He bleeds maroon and white, kind of like (football) coach (Rob) Gross. It’s not like this everywhere.”

McGregor, who placed fifth at states in Division II at 113 pounds and third in Section VI, already has 104 wins to his credit. This year, McGregor makes the leap to 132 pounds.

The other captains, meanwhile, are all knocking on the door to capture their 100th win.

Warthling, who will be at 220 pounds, is at 80 career wins. Choate (152 pounds) is at 79 wins and Tim Barnard is at 96 victories.

Warthling finished third in sectionals, while Choate and Barnard both took home fifth-place finishes. Barnard will be at 138 this season.

The Warriors lineup also includes Nova Fire at 195, Corey Adams at 170, while Collin Barnard is also back. In addition, Brandon Dirosa will be at 103, Tony Miosi at 126, Sam Sparisino at 99. Dylan Mayer at 145, and Josh Bukowski at 119.

Senior Josh Westervelt (180 pounds) is a first-year wrestler who has the potential to make an impact.

One of the toughest players on the Warriors football team, Westervelt has impressed everyone with the physicality and raw power he has shown in the practice room.

“He’s just been a real big sponge. Everything I throw at him, he just (takes) it all in,” said Warthling. “He’s tough, he should have been out here probably 10 years ago.”

In fact, the team-wide aggressive streak is one of the first things that impressed Hess.

“Since our season has started we’ve been a lot more aggressive, a lot more physical and our new guys are doing outstanding right now,” Hess said. “I can’t say enough about guys that aren’t in the lineup now, but will be soon.”
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